A chance for peace or a chance for territorial separatism?
Of late, there have been increasing voices from the policy decision makers that if the peace talks process with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional separatist group is unsuccessful, the process should stop or the government will have to talk with the other separatist group.
This reflects the fragility of the "open" peace dialogue which is subjected to outside pressure from the society and supporters of the two opposing parties in the talks as earlier warned by several people, including Mr Thawil Pliensri, former chief of the National Security Council.
A clear example of the vulnerability of an "open" peace dialogue was the complete failure of the talks to end the red-shirt protest in May 2010 between the Abhisit government and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship. The talks were televised live by state-run TV stations.
In most negotiations, be it on peace or other issues, the two parties in the conflict will have to take a step back and compromise. There are no winners take all and no losers. But taking a step back in front of the public or supporters of the two opposing parties may not be possible unless the dialogue is undertaken behind closed door.
In most peace roadmaps, a countdown of the peace process starts when the parties in the conflict have developed mutual trust or have come to terms at some level. But as far as the ongoing peace dialogue between the government and the BRN is concerned, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who played a key role in initiating the process might have entertained the “superiority complex” thought that once the government extended the olive branch the rebels would receive it and the conflict would be resolved quickly through negotiations. Unfortunately, it was not that simple as he thought.
Worse still, even if the process comes to an end abruptly, it does not mean that the government will gain an upperhand or will be able to apply more pressure on the BRN because the rebel group has already been recognized in the international community. And if the BRN can form alliance with the other rebel groups, Mr Hassan Taib and his associates will become the legitimate voice of the Malay Muslims in the deep South with their ultimate objective of self-determination for the region.
Although the separatist groups are not a unified force, at least the BRN is already a recognized entity and has a voice in the social media as manifested in the three video clips posted in YouTube.
But do the BRN really want to negotiate with the government? The BRN’s charter clearly rejects all negotiations with the Thai state. So is it possible that the current peace dialogue process is just the BRN’s ploy to expose itself in the international community (and it appears that the government was willing to be deceived because all the officials who used to deal with peace talks with the rebels have been removed before the signing of the peace deal in Kuala Lumpur on February 28).
The government thought that the BRN’s entry to the peace dialogue process meant that the rebel group would end the violence and was willing to talk with the government within the framework of the Thai constitution.
The question is: Are the BRN genuinely serious with the peace process? If they are, then why they chose to make their five demands through the social media instead of presenting them directly to the Thai side? On the contrary, the Thai negotiators have been more cautious in making any comments with the media. Hence, it is doubtful that the BRN will recognize the Thai charter particularly on the issue of peace. In the latest VDO clip, the BRN stated clearly that their version of peace is different from that of the government.
This is a dangerous situation. While violent incidents continue unabated, the rebels have shifted their target of attacks from the civilians to government officials and put the blame on the authorities for being responsible for the violence against the civilians. It appears that everything was connected and schemed before hand.
Meanwhile, there is a sudden surge of public discussions on the issue of the future of Patani – a self-determined territory which is more than just a special administration zone.
As for the government, it appears that the government is still struggling to cope with the situation. Regarding the BRN’s five demands, some of the demands can be tackled or should have been tackled by the government long before such as the unjust arrests.
In the meantime, the rebels have been making good use of the social media to discredit the government and to justify their political cause. After all, the negotiating process may be pointless whether it will proceed or will collapse.
But the prospect of the Thai state losing the three southernmost provinces to the rebels which is still regarded as impossible by Thai authorities is gradually and steadily shaping up. This is a matter of importance that authorities concerned should take a close look.
Caption : The bombings in the deep South of Thailand seemed to increase after the peace agreement was signed.
Note : This article was translated from the editorial of Isra News Center (โอกาสของสันติภาพ กับโอกาสของการเสียดินแดน http://bit.ly/15GTEqY)